Neural basis of phonological awareness in beginning readers with familial risk of dyslexia—Results from shallow orthography

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Abstract

Phonological processing ability is a key factor in reading acquisition, predicting its later success or causing reading problems when it is weakened. Our aim here was to establish the neural correlates of auditory word rhyming (a standard phonological measure) in 102 young children with (FHD +) and without familial history of dyslexia (FHD −) in a shallow orthography (i.e. Polish). Secondly, in order to gain a deeper understanding on how schooling shapes brain activity to phonological awareness, a comparison was made of children who had had formal literacy instruction for several months (in first grade) and those who had not yet had any formal instruction in literacy (in kindergarten). FHD + children compared to FHD − children in the first grade scored lower in an early print task and showed longer reaction times in the in-scanner rhyme task. No behavioral differences between FHD + and FHD − were found in the kindergarten group. On the neuronal level, overall familial risk was associated with reduced activation in the bilateral temporal, tempo-parietal and inferior temporal–occipital regions, as well as the bilateral inferior and middle frontal gyri. Subcortically, hypoactivation was found in the bilateral thalami, caudate, and right putamen in FHD +. A main effect of the children's grade was present only in the left inferior frontal gyrus, where reduced activation for rhyming was shown in first-graders. Several regions in the ventral occipital cortex, including the fusiform gyrus, and in the right middle frontal and postcentral gyri, displayed an interaction between familial risk and grade. The present results show strong influence of familial risk that may actually increase with formal literacy instruction.

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